We’ve been progressing through the Chronological Bible this year. We spent a long time in the Old Testament and I feel like we just arrived in the New Testament, and there are only 6 weeks left to wrap up our one-year journey.
The Old Testament had many rules, and until this year it never struck me how much man deserved all those rules. The rules God put in place were to prevent man from self-destructing. In the Garden of Eden, there was only one rule. Of course, we broke it. There was no need for Ten Commandments when we couldn’t follow One Commandment.
Soon after, Cain slew Abel. Abel didn’t last very long. He was first mentioned in Genesis 4:2 and by verse 8 he was gone. He only lasted 6 verses. The sanctity of life through the ages is clear in our studies, and God said that Abel’s blood called out to Him from the ground.
So God gave us more rules to protect us. The Ten Commandments included, “Thou shalt not murder.” And then ten commandments grew into hundreds of rules and laws as we read in the book of Leviticus.
And then came the New Testament. And many feel that the New Testament rules on top of all the Old Testament rules are overwhelming.
I used to think that #1 rule for Christians was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week? The church meets throughout the week, too. Many churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. If you want to be a good Christian, you must go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday. Sometimes there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.
There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.
And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.
Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew
We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed now to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.
I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:
But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.
These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Apparently even who you eat with will determine your salvation!
Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and for their entire lives followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow. And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-15 –
When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.”
Paul calls Peter a hypocrite because Peter feared men more than he feared God. In the first century the Greek word for hypocrite, “hypokritḗs” was used to describe an actor’s mask. Off stage he was one person, but when he stepped on stage to be seen by others, he would put on a mask and be another person.
The word for hypocrisy reaches back even further, though, to 400BC. Hippocrates was one of the most influential men in medical history. Doctors today who practice medicine swear in by the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocrates is famous for practicing medicine in the ancient world under what is now known as the tree of Hippocrates in Kos, Greece.
The tree is massive, with branches that reach far out. All around the tree there is scaffolding used to uphold its branches. On the outside we see the structure of the tree but here is the strange thing: the tree is hollow. On the inside, there is no substance. The tree appears healthy, but underneath the surface there is nothing.
The Apostle Paul is telling us, that those who are hypocritical may have an outward appearance of godliness but inwardly they have hollow faith. They have the structural appearance of being healthy, but they lack the substance.
Peter presented himself as an adopted Gentile to one group and as a Law-keeping Jew to another group. If we are honest, we are all guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy. We present ourselves one way at church but can act another way at work. We sing loud praises to God in Sunday Worship, but as soon as we get in our car after Church and get in Houston traffic, what comes out of our mouth is most certainly not praising God. We read scripture about how to love one another, then we ignore or insult people than annoy us. We believe Jesus loves the whole world, but we refuse to love those who are different than us.
Then Paul tells Peter that the very Jewish Law that Peter is pretending to follow wouldn’t save him anyway. It’s not the Law that saves. Paul says in Galatians 2:16,
“And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”
Paul’s argument throughout the book of Galatians can be summarized by this one verse. He tells us repeatedly we are not saved by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Remember, there were false teachers in the church in Galatia with the view that they were justified with God because they both believed in Jesus and kept the Law. They were teaching a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine so that their works under the Law would give them salvation.
Paul’s emphasis is that we are not declared righteous by keeping the Law. Our level of righteousness in God’s eyes is not upheld by our good works. Instead, our righteousness in God’s eyes is upheld by Jesus’ work: Jesus’ death on the cross for us.
We do not need to uphold the dietary restrictions that the Old Testament prescribes in order to be declared righteous. We will not be deemed unclean if we wear clothes with mixed fabrics as declared in Leviticus 19:19. And even if you boiled a baby goat in its mother’s milk in the past month or so as prohibited by Exodus 23:19, you are still saved.
Remember, this letter was to the Church, to believers. It is a reminder that we cannot earn our way into God’s presence by being at every Bible Study and small group. We do not earn favor with God because we prayed today. We do not earn favor with God because we memorized three Bible verses this week. We do not even earn favor with God by listening to Christian radio, although KJIC 90.5 Country Christian Radio comes pretty close.
In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
This is obviously true, because Jesus said it. “Only the one who does the will of my Father.” So is Jesus saying that works can save us? But then the rest of the verse says that even people doing the will of Jesus will be told to leave because Jesus didn’t know them.
What is the will of the Father? It is for all of His children to place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t ask us to drive out demons. He just asks us to trust in Jesus. By faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.
Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us. Two verses in Ephesians 2 makes it clear, verses 4-9,
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.
And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians:
You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.
What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace. We have been freed from the bondage of performance slavery. Jesus liberated us from believing that religious practices and rites save us. As a Pharisee and member of the straight-edge religious elite of Judaism Paul knew what it was like to struggle with trying to earn God’s approval with his behavior. He found rest in the Gospel that the only thing that makes us righteous is faith in God. Whether you are a son or daughter with good behavior or bad, nevertheless you are still a son or daughter of God.
Misconceptions About Salvation
There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.
- Ask Jesus into your heart.
Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told his student he would be saved if he invited Jesus into their heart. But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus into his heart along with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.
It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. In this verse, Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers. These are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, and He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him.
Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Is this teaching that you must ask Jesus into your heart? Again, Paul is teaching believers here. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just naturally what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.
- Be sorry for your sins.
Should we Christians beat ourselves up for all the bad things we did before we became Christian, and to be honest, for all the things we continue to do? Do we have to have regret to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. In other words, every Christian has a past. So just leave it there. There’s no reason to drag it around with you everywhere you go.
What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? This verse says “Godly sorrow.” How in the world are non-believers supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. If it did, this corrupted version of John 3:16 would read this way–
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.
That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever *believes* in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.
- Give up your sins.
This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. We just covered a little while ago that bible studies and church attendance doesn’t save us. But what about repenting of our sins? After all, the bible is full of calls to repentance, isn’t it?
“Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?
Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.”
In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word “repent” a single time. The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though that often follows from changing one’s mind first.
So, is giving up our sins a sign we are a believer? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth. In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to stop arguing with God. I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. Thank the Lord we don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved. Jesus cleans up our act after. Romans 5:6-8,
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We do not have to clean up our act before accepting Christ or to be saved. We are saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.
- Pray a prayer.
All we have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right? After all, Romans 10:13 says,
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Let me put it this way: Can you say a prayer out loud while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? You’re thinking to yourself, I’m saying this but I’m not going to do it. The prayer itself has no power.
But can you place your faith in Jesus silently, without a prayer? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved. It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.
- Give your life to Jesus.
Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved? I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved: Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.
What does save you? Acts 16:31,
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
What all of these misconceptions have in common is that they are works of man. And we know that we can never be good enough, to work hard enough, to assure our place in heaven. How would we ever know it’s been enough? No, to be saved, we have to change our mind about who Jesus is, to place our faith in Christ. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.
Christ Did It All
Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,
But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord. Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.
What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved. The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *we* still have to fulfill the law, too.
That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus? What are we putting our trust in? Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we obey all of those rules with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?
Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter. Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ.
Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.
Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory for believers. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus Christ your Lord and ask him to lead you to baptism.
But we are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.
Let’s consider a light bulb. It’s wired up, and when the switch is flipped, it brings light to the room. If we don’t flip the switch, though, is it still a light bulb? Of course it is. It’s just not a useful lightbulb. And if we have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us power, and we are asked to shine the light of Christ for others to see. We can refuse and stay dark, but we’re still saved. We’re just not useful.
But are we saved? Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.
The Simplicity of Christ
I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.
But there’s nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.
While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”
There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.
It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”
It’s just Jesus. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
That is the simplicity of being in Christ.
To God be the glory. Amen.